The Net connection helps soothe investors' pain

Private punters can access vital information such as brokers' notes and important share details by keying into research services on the internet
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The Independent Online

Shell-shocked shareholders need all the help they can get at the moment. With markets plunging around the world and leading economies balancing on a knife-edge shareholders could be forgiven for turning their backs on stocks altogether.

Shell-shocked shareholders need all the help they can get at the moment. With markets plunging around the world and leading economies balancing on a knife-edge shareholders could be forgiven for turning their backs on stocks altogether.

Investors' nerves may be shot to pieces, but so far they have not panicked, and we have not had the crashes of previous slumps. In many ways today's investors are better equipped to cope with such crises - thanks largely to the internet.

Until recently, private investors have been left mainly in the dark. While City wheeler-dealers had instant access to state-of-the-art news and share information, the punter had to rely on stale tips from a local stockbroker or wait for the annual report to drop through their letter-box.

The internet is now broadening the punter's scope. Share prices, news and detailed financials such as brokers' forecasts are more widely available than before. However, much more must be done to level the playing-field with City institutions. Several services have started to address this problem.

One obvious way of keeping up with the brokers is to try to get hold of the research City traders base their decisions on. Brokers' research notes give a breakdown and analysis of a company's current state, and vitally, the analyst's assessment of whether the shares are a buy, sell or hold.

Until now, brokers' notes have been hard to find. At best, investors would receive out-of-date research with little relevance in rapidly changing markets. But now brokers' research is becoming a key part of a private investors' armoury.

Digital Look (http://www.DigitalLook.com), the finance and news alert service, has launched a research service providing reports from some of the UK's leading brokers, the aim being to add new brokers to create a comprehensive UK and global service.

Multex, a US pioneer in this field, has enjoyed rapid growth and created a European operation in conjunction with Reuters. Some of the largest brokers are even doing it for themselves. Merrill Lynch and HSBC have teamed up to provide research to investors as they aim to create a global investment and banking service. And sites like Money Guru (http://www.moneyguru.co.uk) have used their own analysts to produce professional research. Other services such as Equity Investigator are trying to infiltrate company presentations to analysts, so that investors do not miss out on potential golden nuggets of information.

But the circumstances are not perfect. Brokers' research notes from the big investment banks still have a nasty habit of winging their way to favoured clients - before private investors get a look in. That said, fresh online research from experts can provide key pointers to the latest outlook for companies and stock market sectors. While these research services have not completely opened the opportunities for private investors, they do allow them to at least play on the same pitch as the City big boys.

Another area where the internet can help investors help themselves is finding out more about share perks.

Until recently, investors had little direct access to this information. Now Hargreaves Lansdown has teamed up with Digital Look to launch an online service that alerts shareholders to the potential benefits on offer when they invest in the stock market. For prospective shareholders there are plenty of perks - from discounts on Harry Potter books to cheap holidays, hotel rooms and bargain clothes.

In terms of easily accessible information investors have never had it so good. Though being well-informed is not going to guarantee good returns in the current temperamental markets, investing successfully in the stock market has always been a relatively long-term game and the internet can help soothe the short-term pain.

Andy Yates is director of operations at finance and news alerts website DigitalLook.com

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